Swede flourishes in Middle Georgia
It was his best friend’s fault.
Johan Wadstein was just another 10-year-old who needed something to do. Not that the beautiful coastal city of Helsingborg, Sweden, lacked activities for young boys, but his buddy Filip Hegelund was starting to play tennis and Johan thought it would be fun.
With a racket in hand and a pocketful of neon yellow-green balls, the court became his new hangout. But he was never playing to be great; it was just something to do with his friends.
Wadstein laughs at the story now, realizing he’s turned his favorite pastime into a full-blown college career. As the No. 1 player on Georgia College’s tennis team, it is difficult to imagine him as anything other than a Bobcat all-star.
Hardly a soul on campus doesn’t know his name or recognize his sharp appearance.
“He’s charming, I really like him. And obviously he’s super athletic,” junior community health and human services major Hailee Argo said.
“I’ve seen him in The Max. He seems distinguished, like he puts effort into what he looks like,” sophomore chemistry major David Robeson said.
“He always has a smile on his face, I love talking to him. And he’s such a suave dresser,” senior mass communications major Nichole Houston said.
Six feet tall with combed blond hair and blue eyes, the senior management major was recently sitting at a table outside the campus Chick-fil-A. He seemed comfortable, smiling, watching the constant flow of people around him.
“You don’t have this kind of life in Sweden,” he said. “People don’t move around like this and mingle at universities over there.”
Five seconds later, someone passing slapped him a high-five.
GC has given Wadstein a place to thrive. He’s happy, energetic. He loves talking to people in America. The folks in Sweden are a jealous type and harder to get along with, according to Wadstein. He also loves Middle Georgia’s weather.
“It’s beautiful here, the sun, everything. Sweden is kind of depressing,” he said, laughing. “It’s probably raining there right now.”
But there was a time when Wadstein wanted to return to Sweden more than anything.
During his years at ProCivitas upper secondary school, Sweden’s equivalent to high school, Wadstein spent the majority of his time playing for the school’s club tennis team. He was popular and affable, but when his friends started partying, he was forced to take it easy. His focus was on the court. Playing in tournaments every weekend didn’t leave much room for playtime.
“But around 16 or 17, I got tired of playing. I was distracted by girls and partying,” he recalled. “My life had gotten so structured and there was no variation. I had to miss good friend’s birthday parties to play in tournaments and I was losing motivation.”
What he needed was a team, a group of fellow athletes who could spark fire in him. Club tennis in Sweden was too individual, and he slowly began to practice less. He wanted to get back to a regular teenage life.
But a visit to Rollins College in Orlando changed his mind about everything. It was suddenly so obvious. The United States was where he wanted to play tennis. After frantically sending applications to every college coach he could find an email address for, the denial letters began pouring in. Losing steam the last couple of years showed in his tournament scores, and coaches noticed.
When all hope seemed lost, Georgia College offered him a scholarship. He didn’t know what Milledgeville looked like. He didn’t care. A month later, he was on a plane to America to begin his Spring 2010 semester at GC.
Tennis coach Steve Barsby met him at the Atlanta airport. Three hours later, he was settling into Sanford Hall. But despite the welcoming attitude, Wadstein instantly felt a barrier. One semester hadn’t even gone by before he informed coach Barsby he would be leaving.
“Things like expressions and sarcasm, all of it was hard to communicate and understand. If someone walked up to me and said, ‘What’s up?’ then (what do) I say to that, you know? The culture shock and being so far away from home made it worse.”
America had been so promising, but so far it was an awkward mess.
“I felt I was at the age where I needed to be as happy as I could be,” he said, “but I wasn’t happy here.”
But when the flowers began to bloom and the weather grew warmer during spring, Wadstein began to change his mind about returning to Sweden.
The spring season saw him and his teammates coming together in ways he wasn’t able to experience on the club teams back home. He was succeeding academically. Things were finally starting to make sense. He embraced campus life.
“I became more secure with the language,” he said, “so I became more secure with myself.”